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Global warming begins when sunlight reaches Earth. The clouds, atmospheric particles,
reflective ground surfaces and ocean surface then reflected about 30 percent of it back into
space, while the remaining is absorbed by oceans, lands and air. This in turn heats the planets
surface and atmosphere, making life possible. As Earth warmed up, this solar energy is radiated
by thermal radiation or infrared heat, travelling directly out to space, thus cooling the Earth.
However, some of the outgoing radiation is re-absorbed by carbon dioxide, water vapor and other
gases in the atmosphere and is radiated back to Earths surface; these gases are known as
greenhouse gases due to their heat-trapping capacity. This re-absorption process is naturally
good; the Earths average surface temperature would be very cold if not for the greenhouse
The problem begins when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were
artificially raised by humankind at an ever-increasing rate since the past 250 years. As of 2004,
over 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide was pumped out per year; natural carbon sinks such as
forests and the ocean absorbed some of this, while the rest accumulated in the atmosphere.
Millions of pounds of methane are produced in landfills and agricultural decomposition of biomass
and animal manure. Nitrous oxide is released into the atmosphere by nitrogen-based fertilizers
and other soil management practices. Once released, these greenhouse gases stay in the
atmosphere for decades or longer. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), carbon dioxide and methane levels have increased by 35 and 148 percent since the 1750
industrial revolution. Paleoclimate readings taken from ice cores and fossil records dating back to
650 000 years show that both gases are at their highest levels. Thermal radiation is obstructed
further by the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, resulting in what is known as
enhanced global warming.
Recent observations of global warming have solidified the theory that it is indeed an enhanced
greenhouse effect that is causing the world to warm. The planet has experienced the largest
increase in surface temperature over the last century. Between 1906 and 2006, the Earths
average surface temperature rose between 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius; the last 50 years saw the
temperature increase rate almost doubling. Sea levels have shown a rise of about 0.17 meters
during the twentieth century. The extent of Arctic sea ice has steadily shrunk by 2.7 percent per
decade since 1978, just as worlds glaciers steadily receded.
As the world continues to consume ever more fossil fuel energy, greenhouse gas concentrations
will continue to rise, and with them Earths temperature. The IPCC estimates that based on
plausible emission scenarios, average surface temperatures could increase between 2C and 6C
by the end of the 21st century. Continued warming at current rates poses serious consequences.
Low-lying coastal regions, with dense population, are especially vulnerable to climate shifts, with

the poorer countries and small island nations having the hardest time adapting. It has been
projected that by 2080, 13 to 88 million people around the world would lose their home to
The evidence that humans are causing global warming is strong, but the question of what to do about it remains
controversial. Economics, sociology, and politics are all important factors in planning for the future.
Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) today, the Earth would still warm by another degree
Fahrenheit or so. But what we do from today forward makes a big difference. Depending on our choices, scientists
predict that the Earth could eventually warm by as little as 2.5 degrees or as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
A commonly cited goal is to stabilize GHG concentrations around 450-550 parts per million (ppm), or about twice preindustrial levels. This is the point at which many believe the most damaging impacts of climate change can be
avoided. Current concentrations are about 380 ppm, which means there isn't much time to lose. According to the
IPCC, we'd have to reduce GHG emissions by 50% to 80% of what they're on track to be in the next century to reach
this level.
Is this possible?
Many people and governments are already working hard to cut greenhouse gases, and everyone can help.
Researchers Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow at Princeton University have suggested one approach that they
call "stabilization wedges." This means reducing GHG emissions from a variety of sources with technologies available
in the next few decades, rather than relying on an enormous change in a single area. They suggest 7 wedges that
could each reduce emissions, and all of them together could hold emissions at approximately current levels for the
next 50 years, putting us on a potential path to stabilize around 500 ppm.
There are many possible wedges, including improvements to energy efficiency and vehicle fuel economy (so less
energy has to be produced), and increases in wind and solar power, hydrogen produced from renewable sources,
biofuels (produced from crops), natural gas, and nuclear power. There is also the potential to capture the carbon
dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and store it undergrounda process called "carbon sequestration."
In addition to reducing the gases we emit to the atmosphere, we can also increase the amount of gases we take out
of the atmosphere. Plants and trees absorb CO2 as they grow, "sequestering" carbon naturally. Increasing
forestlands and making changes to the way we farm could increase the amount of carbon we're storing.
Some of these technologies have drawbacks, and different communities will make different decisions about how to
power their lives, but the good news is that there are a variety of options to put us on a path toward a stable climate.